Help! I'm tired of being mansplained to!
August 19, 2013 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I have a co-worker who, despite being ten years younger than I am and much less experienced, really enjoys explaining things to me. He mansplains things that I know a lot about, things I know a little about, things that he knows very little about, you name it. Today, we were talking about business failure, and he said very authoritatively, "Well, it's very important to understand failure and then build sustainability in to the next venture." I'm like, um, you know nothing about building a business. Stop explaining this to me. I find myself on the receiving end of these long mansplained lectures, and I'm tired of smiling and nodding. What's a snappy comeback to shut this guy up? I'm also wondering if there's something I'm doing that suggests I don't know what I'm talking about?
posted by airguitar2 to Human Relations (58 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
After the first nod, smile and say "Hey, listen, I have to get back to work, but as soon as your book comes out let me know and I'll be first in line to buy it."
posted by The Deej at 3:07 PM on August 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

The phenomenon you're talking about has next to nothing to do with you. It's a mark of insecurity on his part, and an attempt to make himself feel better by convincing himself of his own superiority. Don't take it personally.

But, also, don't take it. He makes a ridiculously overconfident remark, make a skeptical face and then ignore it or change the subject. He goes off on a lecture, tell him you've gotta get back to work. Don't smile and nod, because that's exactly the feedback he's looking for. Look bored and unimpressed, and he'll be much more likely to get the hint. And if he doesn't, you stop hinting and just disengage.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:09 PM on August 19, 2013 [21 favorites]

something I'm doing that suggests I don't know what I'm talking about?

That would be the smiling and nodding. Dismiss him with a "yeah, I know dude. I've worked here for 10 years remember?" Then walk away.
posted by fshgrl at 3:09 PM on August 19, 2013 [40 favorites]

Why are you smiling and nodding? If what you're doing is smiling and nodding, you're basically encouraging him to continue talking. If you want to converse with him on these subjects and show your knowledge, then do so. If not, say, "I'm not interested in discussing this right now."
posted by xingcat at 3:09 PM on August 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

"I'm going to have to cut you off, I've got work to do."
posted by sm1tten at 3:13 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here's how I'd put it: "Listen, I'm sure you don't mean to be rude, but I have a lot of experience in this area, and when you attempt to explain basic stuff like this to me, it comes off as condescending. If I have a question, I'll ask. Thanks."

posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:14 PM on August 19, 2013 [63 favorites]

Stop noddin start eye-rollin. No snappy comeback needed.
posted by hellameangirl at 3:14 PM on August 19, 2013

"Hey, I've noticed that you sometimes feel the need to explain certain concepts to me when it should really be pretty obvious that I already have experience and knowledge in that area given my time in this workforce. What's going on for you when that happens?"

Then if he says anything like, "Well you don't seem to understand --"

You cut him off and say, "No, actually, you don't seem to understand that you're being rude. I don't need a crash course in the basics and haven't for some time. Please redirect your need to explain things like you're talking to a kid onto somebody else who can benefit from your wealth of experience."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 3:18 PM on August 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm kind of a jackass, so I'd try to bait the guy. Come up with more and more ridiculous things to start conversations about, the more esoteric the better.

Play the long game. Get him talking a little bit about a whole lot of things, and then a few days (weeks? months?) down the line, have a co-conspirator go up to him while he's in a group of people and say, "hey, I heard you were like the resident expert on nudibranchs! I saw this picture of a sea slug, purple, yellow stripes. Any idea what species it is?" And then when he balks, "oh, sorry, I guess I got the impression that you knew all about them after that conversation you had with airguitar2. My bad."
posted by phunniemee at 3:24 PM on August 19, 2013 [15 favorites]

I just snapped on a guy like this over the weekend - telling him "you're stating the obvious" shut him up, although it was a bit harsh.

I think 'mansplainers' are a type . I work for the government, and we have a good half dozen of them in our building. They'll lecture anyone who will stand there and nod and smile (as others stated, that's all you need to do to bring them to you). Most of us learn to avoid them, and end conversations with a curt, "yes, I am aware of that" and walking away.
posted by kanewai at 3:25 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

What's a snappy comeback to shut this guy up? I'm also wondering if there's something I'm doing that suggests I don't know what I'm talking about?

Yes: Looking for snappy comebacks.

Don't make a snappy comeback, don't make a face or roll your eyes or look bored. Just do your work. If his overconfidence upsets you, figure out why it upsets you. I think you'll find that if you were secure in your knowledge and position, it wouldn't be a big deal. Snappy comebacks of any kind only reveal your insecurity and honestly make you seem childish.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:28 PM on August 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

he said very authoritatively, "Well, it's very important to understand failure and then build sustainability in to the next venture." I'm like, um, you know nothing about building a business. Stop explaining this to me.

So say that. "Huh, I didn't realise you knew anything about building a business. What's your experience there?" probably folllowed by "oh, from books. Yea, ok."
posted by jacalata at 3:34 PM on August 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

I agree that smiling and nodding might be leading him to believe you're receptive to his pearls of wisdom. In the example you gave with his business building nugget, could you have responded with something bland like 'So they say' or 'It sure is' or something else that indicates you find his insight obvious/ tiresome. Don't let his behaviour antagonise you!
posted by bimbam at 3:35 PM on August 19, 2013

Finger of interruption + "Excuse me" + walking away = not losing your cool, concentrating on the work, and not allowing mansplaining to interrupt your job. Rinse and repeat.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:35 PM on August 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

This can be a very annoying personality trait, to be sure. I just want to throw a couple of things into the mix that may (or may not) apply in this case, and perhaps better help you deal with this situation. It could be that neither one of these things is true in this instance, but I do think it's true for some people who actually have good intentions, but come across this way. It might help balance some of the conclusions that he's necessarily trying to act domineering or whatever.

1. Some people learn by speaking things out loud. Sometimes the extrovert versus introvert distinction is made by where people get their energy from. However, it also helps differentiate people who actually process information out loud, rather than in their head. It can feel like a talking down, but (and I can relate a bit), sometimes when I'm explaining a process to someone, I'm simultaneously learning more about it.

2. Some people are also teachers at heart. The enjoy explaining things and being helpful. This doesn't mean, of course, that they are good at it or socially appropriate.

Now, neither of these things are excuses for being socially obtuse or not seeing the signals for appropriate communication. It sometimes needs some direct feedback. I will say, though, that adding 1 and 2 to some social ineptness can create the situation you describe, and perhaps gives you some frame of reference for addressing it.

All this to say, lay some boundaries and be direct, but if appropriate, have a smidge of sympathy for someone who might not be actually talking down to you like you have no idea what's going on. It might be that he's simply trying to be genuinely helpful in ways that don't connect too well and actually come across as jerkish.

Of course, I'm guessing that all this could be the case. It could just be that he's kind of a domineering jerk, but that's for you to determine. In either case, direct discussion is definitely appropriate.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:36 PM on August 19, 2013 [9 favorites]

I wouldn't engage with him at all. He doesn't know what he's talking about.

I know, I worked with such a guy for six years. If I had my time again, I'd go "oh, that's nice".
posted by tel3path at 3:40 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Well, it's very important to understand failure and then build sustainability in to the next venture."

That's not even mansplaining, that's just mouthing of empty buzzwords.

If you feel like being a bit of a jerk about it, next time he tries this sort of thing on you look puzzled and ask him what exactly do you mean by that? No, what do you mean specifically? The phrase "build sustainability in to the next venture" sounds very pretty as a generality but it's a bit handwavey and vague -- do you have anything specific in mind when you say that? Because you seem to be saying this is very important yet I'm having a difficult time getting you to pin down exactly what this important thing you're trying to express is, in concrete terms? No concrete terms then? Just a vague sentiment then? ...and so on. Pin him down, make it very clear to him that you know that he doesn't know what he's talking about, and he'll certainly think twice before trying it again on you.

Certainly not a very nice tactic, and not one I'd use on someone I have to be in daily contact with, but it can be very satisfying.
posted by ook at 3:47 PM on August 19, 2013 [11 favorites]

I have a tendency to turn conversations at work into Serious Discussions of Social Issues, which tend to be me lecturing because my coworkers aren't usually as politically aware. One of my colleagues has done a pretty good job of reminded me to not be a blowhard by loudly and flamboyantly exclaiming "Hold on guys, here I come, building up my soapbox!" while making appropriate hand motions. It is hilarious and effective! If your guy takes himself too seriously it might not work.
posted by Anonymous at 3:52 PM on August 19, 2013

Snappy comebacks of any kind only reveal your insecurity and honestly make you seem childish. --esprit de l'escalier

Eponysterical. But I sort of agree. "Sort of", because I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to help giving him a "wtf?" expression and walking away mid-sentence. Is he perceptive enough to pick up on that?

Don't let it interrupt you. Commit to not trying to think up snappy comebacks; that line of reasoning disrupts your life much more than the mansplanation itself.
posted by supercres at 4:06 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

These people are obnoxious, and everyone knows it - so don't feel alone. Guaranteed other people are just as annoyed.

No smiling and nodding. Don't even engage with this guy (I mean literally ignore him, keep your eyes on your screen and just don't even look up); when you are in a group and he is doing this, just ignore him and only listen to/make eye contact with others.

You CAN smile if you are going to respond. I tend to respond with friendly teasing:
Mansplainer: "Well, it's very important to understand failure and then build sustainability in to the next venture."
Me: "Oh yeah? Experience from all those wildly successful businesses you've built?"
Mansplainer: "Well, ... [launches into irrelevant but overconfident explanation]"
Me: Cut him off and pretend like he's not there.

This only works if he's actually younger and more inexperienced than you, which this one is. (I find the older, accomplished, well-qualified mansplainers much more difficult to deal with.).

All said in a joking teasing tone and with a smile, that's what makes it work - you have to say it the way you would tease a good buddy over beers. Or a tone that is sort of like you are charmed with a 5 year old who is bossing you around. (Oh, you want me to sit in this little chair and hold the teacup? Yes MA'AM, you 3-foot-tall dictator.)

"Yeah, I've been doing this since you were in high school, I think I've got it."
"Oh is that right? We've got a ____ expert over here."
"Maybe they should just give you [high-level boss at the org]'s job since you seem to have everything all figured out."
"Dude, are you reciting a wikipedia article? enough with the lecturing already."
"Somebody clearly read the employee manual."
"Are you done lecturing me on the basics of [our trade]? Cause once you've fulfilled your need to expound at length I'd likely to actually discuss the project we need to get done."

[if you overhear him doing it to someone else, you could pose it as friendly conspiratorial feedback] "Just a tip on the hierarchy around here - Sarah Jane isn't someone you should be explaining things to. She didn't say it to your face, but she knows more about this than most people in the building and she won't take kindly to you speaking with that tone to her."

Sometimes what works is just playing real hardball - be kind of a bitch. Interrupt him, correct him on things, roll your eyes at him, give a dismissive half smile. Talk OVER him. It doesn't feel very good to do that, though.
posted by amaire at 4:07 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, i really really despise the whole "being annoyed about this says more about your own insecurities than his" train of thought. UGH. This is purely an annoying mental and social drag when you're just trying to get work done that isn't as easy to avoid as it sounds if you haven't seriously experienced it.

I really really like ook's answer here. Because while i think some "zing" isn't the way to go, revealing that the emperor has no clothes is. At least in the sense that it'll get him to stop trying it on you, or even stop interacting with you which if it was me i'd consider a win/win.

I don't even think it's being jerk-ish to act like you're really interested and go "Oh yea, so what do you mean by that" or "can you expand on that?" or grab a couple bits out of what he just said and ask a simple question until he's completely and irrecoverably painted himself in to a corner that resulted in him tripping down the stairs. If you know he doesn't know what he's talking about, keep asking questions until he's stumbling over his words. Do this a few times and you'll never have to do it again.

Yea, this will make him dislike you... but would any of the other responses you want here(especially the kind of stuff amaire says, which would probably work too) are going to end with him disliking you too.

This has worked for me every freaking time unless the person was my boss(and i only tried it that time because i had nothing to lose, and just wanted to watch them burn). Forget some kind of "i don't need your help/i know what i'm talking about you don't need to cover the basics" type discussion as that usually results in a double down.

Make them expose their own ineptitude, there's no other clean way out of this.
posted by emptythought at 4:16 PM on August 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

My personal view on this is to always act professional when at work.

The problem with snappy comebacks and eye rolls are that they're usually seen as being quite juvenile, and could cultivate a bad vibe between you and this guy. Since he is someone that you'll have to continue to work with for the foreseeable future, causing him to feel slighted might not be in your best interests.

Just say that you have X that you need to take care of, and leave. When you're the good guy, don't ruin it by becoming the new bad guy.

Note: my comment is based on the unfortunate fact that you have to work with this person. If he was just some random guy that you happened to see here and there at the local coffee shop, my answer would be totally different.
posted by Shouraku at 4:21 PM on August 19, 2013 [30 favorites]

"Gee golly, tell me more." Let him run dry.
posted by Namlit at 4:28 PM on August 19, 2013

"Well, it's very important to understand failure and then build sustainability in to the next venture."

'You're awfully young to know so much about business failure-- but I can't say I'm all that surprised!' in a tone as sweet and non-acidic as you can manage, then laugh merrily and see if he won't laugh with you.

After a few iterations, he'll grasp that these outbreaks of mansplaining are occasions for you to make relatively gentle fun of his shortcomings, real or imagined, and stop doing it as often.

I've seen women (mainly but not exclusively) do it just right and preserve friendly relations, and even turn the offenders into allies, but that's far beyond my skill level.
posted by jamjam at 4:31 PM on August 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

i don't see any mansplaining here but just some know-it-all behavior which really doesn't have a gender. anyway, i wouldn't be rude to the guy because you do have to work with him, i assume, daily. alienating co-workers is never a good move professionally. next time he says something along these lines just say something like "yeah, i know. i've been at this a long time" while genuinely smiling. or, don't respond by saying much of anything so he isn't encouraged to continue talking. if after doing these things a few times he still doesn't get then privately explain to him that it feels a bit uncomfortable having him explain things to you that you already know since you are rather experienced in your field. just be professional and mature and don't try to make the guy feel bad. he's young and is probably just trying to impress you.
posted by wildflower at 5:04 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

Offer to help. "Oh, is sustainability a concept you've been having trouble with? I can help you with that." Or a well timed, "Do you want me to show you an example?" And anything that starts with the words, "Do you need me to..." Hopefully he'll find a more forgiving audience and stop inviting you to his esteemed lecture series.

Also, I think of this as more of a male trait too, but I know women who can play this game with the best of them.
posted by balacat at 5:10 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not a snappy comeback per se, but on subjects where you know your stuff and he doesn't, jump ahead of him in conversation. If he mentions x, reply with 'oh yeah, x y and z are constraints on what I'm trying to do with this, and I found that w works a lot better'. Also, I think a disinterested stone-face stare with a skeptical raised eyebrow is a happy medium between nod-and-smile and rolling eyes. Along with the curt cut-and-run of 'This is going off on a tangent; sorry to cut you off, but I gotta get back to work'
posted by Fig at 5:11 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know a guy JUST like this (we all do!). He, despite not being in my field, consistently goes on like he knows more than I do, just spouting off basic information like he's changing my life or something. I usually just say, very firmly, "Got it." and change the subject - talking right over him - or just excuse myself from the conversation entirely. It's not snappy, but hey. I don't think he'd respond to snappy anyways, he'd just steamroll right over it.
posted by troika at 5:59 PM on August 19, 2013

How tiresome for you. I think this sort of person never changes. But you might try the "mentor" approach. You know Bob, are you aware of how off putting over explaining this subject(s) can be? Have a discussion about that.

But he may just be that way. Unable to connect with others unless he is talking about his thoughts, his experiences or what he thinks is correct. Talkers who just have to talk.

If you can, excuse yourself and leave the area. If you are trapped, then tell him you have work to do.

Engaging in snappy comebacks, and the like will end up reflecting badly upon you.

Or tell him that he's over explaining again. But I think it will be trying to teach a fish to ride a bicycle.
posted by moonlily at 6:51 PM on August 19, 2013


Well, bless your pea-picking heart.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:57 PM on August 19, 2013

In the spirit of some posters above, I'd also reply with not so much an eye-rolling, but a poker-face "what's your point?" expression: "Well, yeah, but this is stating the obvious. The real problem is XYZ."
posted by Ender's Friend at 6:58 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

could you please explain what you mean by "mansplain"? does he just do this to you? to women in your office? to everyone? it matters because it would hint at what degree he's just generally clueless bigoted or has some weird thing with you.

i think your underlying question is "how can i get this to stop?" and the real answer is you need to talk to his boss, or talk to HR. i'd start with a discrete email to his boss explaining his behavior. you could also encourage anyone else at your job to do the same. hopefully a small talking to by his boss will enlighten him. otherwise, escalate with HR as needed.

what i would NOT do, is fire off some one liner you think is witty, only to say something that could be construed by him as offensive by him and thereby get yourself in trouble.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:19 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

This guy is in an ego / dominance contest with you. The problem with snappy retorts, or even telling him to stop, is that it sends the message, "The ego competition is ON! I just fired a shot off your bow. How will you respond?" He then needs to up his ante.

Instead, make it clear that you are not playing the game at all, because you are pursuing a higher goal which is greater than any individual person. For example, you could interrupt him and say, "I want to make sure project X gets done on time. Project X is so important to our company. How is X going?"

Or "Let's make sure we have the materials for our big presentation next Monday. That's one of our biggest clients, and acing the presentation will be great for our whole team."

Then you rise above it, and he will have to stop his individual ego battle, in favor of the greater good.

As an analogy, imagine catty girl A making a snarky comment about B's hair. If B says, "At least I'm not fat!" then A is just going to escalate. If B says, "Let's talk about our charitable community service this weekend," then A will feel sheepish.
posted by cheesecake at 7:31 PM on August 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

"Huh, is that what the kids think?"
posted by klangklangston at 7:31 PM on August 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

Excellent advice in this thread by wildflower about not trying to make the guy feel bad who is probably just trying to impress you and cheesecake about focusing on higher goals than the ego battle you are getting sucked into.

Wow, i really really despise the whole "being annoyed about this says more about your own insecurities than his" train of thought. UGH.It'll get him to stop trying it on you, or even stop interacting with you which if it was me i'd consider a win/win.Yea, this will make him dislike you... but any of the other responses you want…are going to end with him disliking you too.

People here are telling you that their suggested retorts will make this colleague dislike you, or at least stop interacting with you. Is this at all pragmatic? Do you think you can ever be promoted to managing someone who actively dislikes you or avoids interacting with you? Do you think that will make your job easier when you need his help? Will you expect him to be professional when it suits you?

I can understand your umbrage, but your personal feelings are totally irrelevant to your job. How can the condescension of a random colleague prevent you from being professional and focusing on your goals, which are to be successful at work?

Don't kid yourself that you're trying to get him to stop — that's not your job and you know that your remark will cause more harm than good. If this is about expressing yourself, then take the advice you want to give him, which is "don't express yourself at work." Write a poem it about when you get home.

Ask yourself how your director or anyone you respect at work would react. Do they snap at oversharers? Why not? Is it maybe because they are secure in their position? Ever seen Obama speak? What would Obama do?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:05 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a co-worker like this too-- younger than me, and an unapologetic mansplainer whose tendency to do so is magnified immensely by being the only man in an office full of women.

I just cut him off by saying "Yes, I know", or just "I know", and I repeat this until he stops. He doesn't do it to me any longer, and it's not because he has suddenly gained respect for my experience/intelligence/whatever; it's because he knows I don't have the patience to listen.
posted by jokeefe at 8:09 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

…you need to talk to his boss, or talk to HR. i'd start with a discrete email to his boss explaining his behavior. you could also encourage anyone else at your job to do the same. hopefully a small talking to by his boss will enlighten him. otherwise, escalate with HR as needed..

This is a terrible idea because while it makes him look bad, it also makes you look like someone who doesn't work well with others.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:10 PM on August 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

What Shoruaku said. Eye rolls and snappy comebacks are not professional. So your only option is to wait it out and excuse yourself.

If you want him to stop, and you're sure he does it to multiple people, you can send him an anonymous note with a link explaining what "mansplaining" is and detailing when he does it. He might appreciate the note in his long term future. Keep it friendly, not scathing.

If you're going to go anonymous, be sure to either send it from a coffee shop or use an anonymizing proxy or program, otherwise it can be traced to you.
posted by htid at 8:12 PM on August 19, 2013

Yeah, just to expand on what I said above: I refuse to engage with my co-worker when he goes on his longwinded explanations about things and how they work. But I also joke around with him, and am happy to share in actual conversations, so we get along well. I just shut off when he starts in with (random example) "You see, there was this guy named Tesla, and he--" and I interrupt him with "Yes, I know." And that's the end of that. And then we talk about his weekend, and this new kind of IPA he drank on Saturday, and it's fine.
posted by jokeefe at 8:14 PM on August 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is a terrible idea because while it makes him look bad, it also makes you look like someone who doesn't work well with others.

i suppose it depends on how one actually gives the feedback. i'd write something like:

"hi, i want to give you some feedback about one of your employees. i've noticed that sometimes he will unnecessarily explain things. maybe it's just me, but it seems that this behavior is more often directed at women than not. i think he would be a more effective employee if he more carefully considers his audience when he interacts with other co-workers. if anything i've said is unclear, please follow up with me and i would be glad to explain in more detail. thank you."

can you see how the tone of the message is about making the other employee better and making the company better? and how it makes you look better for looking out for these things?
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:40 PM on August 19, 2013

Mod note: One comment deleted. Please don't get into a further debate with other commenters; thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:54 PM on August 19, 2013

You could double down on the patronizing: "Very good! You're really catching on fast. Your ideas are really coming along. Yup, that's right!" Said without sarcasm, preferably as you are turning to walk away. Imagine patting him on the shoulder, or head.

He continues to come to you with this because he leaves the encounters feeling good/better about himself using this tactic. So make him feel not-so-good. Not terrible, with a huge eye roll and loud snarky comeback, just a bit deflated upon private reflection. Teach him that doing this is not an effective way to make himself feel good.

There's something that comes to mind from Jane Austen; I thought it was between Elizabeth and Caroline Bingley but I can't remember exactly where. Caroline (I think) says something nasty to Elizabeth like how hard it must be to enjoy music when one doesn't understand Italian, and Elizabeth says "Oh, don't you understand Italian? You must let me translate these lyrics for you."
posted by thebazilist at 8:57 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love karathrace's direct burn the most in my head. Problem is, I try not to discourage people from helping me. One day he will know something you don't, or at least remember something relevant you forgot. You want him to keep it to himself then?

Now that you've identified it, you can turn it into a game if you want, and at least get some amusement out of it. If you know more than him, make it a mental puzzle to rapidly come up with a response just a bit out of his league that gives him something to look up as homework, without being rude about it.

That people want to help you is a good thing. It's easy to squash that. You want to gain their respect for what you already know, WITHOUT killing that helpfulness.
posted by ctmf at 9:08 PM on August 19, 2013

To more directly answer the question - sometimes I use this as a polite "remember who you're talking to, here" reminder:

Well, you would THINK that, wouldn't you? But actually it's a little more complicated than that. [counter-example]
posted by ctmf at 9:19 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you condescend, pull rank, or belittle him, he's just going to take it as evidence that you're insecure. Even though you're not. He's a naive entitled twit who's trying to sound competent and is Doing It Wrong.

I think the most productive and least dramarama way to handle it is say "you're stating the obvious" in a matter-of-fact but not unkind tone, and then just disengage from the conversation.
posted by desuetude at 10:05 PM on August 19, 2013

Different blowhards respond to different things. Some may stop when you make a dismissive remake and walk away, but some are don't. If this one doesn't, you can try butting in at random intervals to make him repeat things. That's exhausting for anyone to deal with, and doesn't cost you much thought or speaking time.
posted by ignignokt at 10:16 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had this problem too, and I'm afraid I don't have any great answers. But here's what I do:

First, no eye-rolling, one-liners or putdowns: it's rude and unprofessional and makes you look insecure.

If the mansplainer is really young and otherwise likable, I will sometimes just indulge him (nodding and smiling). I don't feel great about it because it does nothing to help him become more self-aware, and today's clueless kid is a lot less cute twenty years later.. but that's what I do. Because this happens a lot and I'm too busy to have a bunch of long conversations about it.

If I feel irritated though, usually due to someone being a repeat offender, I channel a guy I used to work for and react how he would've. Usually that means saying something like "that's very interesting [Kid], but meanwhile you're late with [some deliverable]. How's it coming?"

If you're not this guy's boss of course you can't do exactly that but still: I'd vote for reframing him to focus on the work he's supposed to be doing --- like, you could ask him how a project is coming along. That would take him out of fantasyland/theory land where he knows everything, and back to the real world where you have more authority and knowledge than he does, and could actually help him if you want to, and if he's smart enough to ask.

Good luck. I know it's enormously irritating: I absolutely feel for you :-)
posted by Susan PG at 10:36 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't believe that people are suggesting that you be sarcastic or eye-roll or disingenuous to a co-worker. There is nothing to gain by treating him badly. Most successful professionals make everyone around them feel like a million bucks, even those who they think are assholes.

Today, we were talking about business failure, and he said very authoritatively, "Well, it's very important to understand failure and then build sustainability in to the next venture." I'm like, um, you know nothing about building a business. Stop explaining this to me.

I believe you in your assessment of his business acumen, and I sympathize with your feelings. But you must suppress your ego and continue to fulfill your mission. Is the 'we' just you and him, or is it a group meeting? If it's a group meeting, there's no need for you to say anything at all unless you are running the meeting-likely, everyone in the meeting will understand that he/it is a waste of time and will just be running out the clock on him. It's the responsibility of the person who's meeting it is to rein him into being on topic and if that person isn't doing their job correctly, you have little to gain by sticking your neck out.

If it is a pure work interaction between the two of you that is part of the mission of your business, or if you are running the meeting, then you must be direct and professional and focus on your mission. If you are meeting with him about x and he says the above gobbledy-gook, you must say, if you don't understand how it relates to x, "I'm not sure that I understand what you mean by that. Can you help me understand how that relates to x?" And who knows! Maybe you don't understand and you'll learn something!

But probably not, right? And now you have put the burden on him to make his bullshit relevant to the topic. If his explanation is similarly senseless, then you can say, "I'm still not sure that I understand how that relates to x. We need to focus on x right now" and then do it, refocus the conversation squarely on x. Over time, you can train him that in interactions with you, his bullshit will have to stand on its own or be explained, and he will learn to either shut his stupid face or contribute to x in a meaningful way. (This kind of training could also be called 'leadership')

But you can and must do this in a professional, friendly way, that is completely business and mission focused. And if this is not a pure work interaction that is directly related to a mission, then there is no reason to be talking about business failure with him. Talk about the weather, or his children, or the new local ice cream shop, or listen to him talk about those things briefly and pleasantly. If he insists on making it a work-related-shop-talk thing, become busy with mission critical work.

Everyone notices the people who handle exactly this sort of situation well, and they are the people who get ahead in well-functioning organizations.
posted by Kwine at 10:58 PM on August 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

I work in an area in which I am the youngest and least experienced person. Even if I have more years doing my job, I'm younger, which tends to make people just regard me with a little less respect. So I'm always afraid that I might sound like a mansplainer, because I learn things by speaking them out loud and bouncing ideas off of others.

I like to share an idea with others and I really appreciate it when they answer me directly telling me that my idea is incorrect and giving me something else to consider. This restructures the concept in my head, and I have a new built idea which I will bounce off of others.

I try to not to speak these ideas authoritatively, but I will say them as statements and rarely as questions because in the line of work I do, I have to become used to showing confidence, regardless if I'm right or not.

I know of at least one person who probably thinks of me as a mansplainer, and who always looks annoyed when I'm around. Said co-worker probably has about 2 years on me, but probably feels much more experienced than me because of raising children which she mentions and talks about constantly. I didn't mean to give her this impression, but that's how it panned out.

I would much rather appreciate it if said co-worker would treat my interactions with her as opportunities I'm taking to learn from her rather than veiled snubs I'm making at her. Any attempt I make at bouncing ideas off of her, even if they are in question form and framed as genuine requests for knowledge are usually diverted or returned in the form of a snarky comment. It's a shame because she treats everyone else very kindly. I frankly find her behavior childish, and I've ceased looking to her for help.
posted by Peregrin5 at 11:15 PM on August 19, 2013

earlier i said i didn't think this was mansplaining. i looked up the actual definition and oh boy this is definitely mansplaining. i seem to know women like this too though, lol.
posted by wildflower at 11:58 PM on August 19, 2013

"I know, thank you. I've got to get back to work now."
posted by mibo at 5:26 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a similar situation with a workmate. It's not mansplaining so much as an individual with a very poor sense of priorities.

While I'm trying to deal with something urgent, he wants to have a 20 minutes conversation (read: lecture) on the finer points of the minutiae of a tangent to my urgent issue.

I just have to interrupt him "I'd love to talk about that over beers, but I have to do *thing* right now."
posted by colin_l at 6:14 AM on August 20, 2013

posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:13 AM on August 20, 2013

How you handle this depends on if you like this guy or not. I had one of these and I loathed him. I ignored him as much as possible and didn't engage him in conversation. The problem handled itself for the most part.

If you like the guy, but just hate getting backed into corners while he pontificates, take him aside one day and tell him, "Dude, you're a nice kid and I'd like to see you get ahead. I'm sure you're totally unaware of this but you have this habit of over-explaining stuff, especially to those of us who have decades of experience in the field. It comes across as condescending. I'm sure you don't mean to be insulting. I just thought you'd want to be aware of it."

Then, if he starts up, you can just reference it and say, "Dude, you're doing it again."

After a while, he'll catch on and it will stop. Or if he's dense, he won't. In which case ignore him as much as possible.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:14 AM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Could be a case of tooo many or too much meds. I'd do a pupil check; and also see if the co-worker changes after lunch ( a common dose time ), or decreases as the day goes on after shift start ( absorption / concentration ).

"DID YOU JUST DOSE YOURSELF?" "DID YOU REMEMBER TO TAKE YOUR MEDS TODAY?" ( most of us have either been on meds, are on meds, or will be on meds, so I don't view this as a OMG insult of my conditionses!!! ) isn't nice; but if I'm facedown in stuff at work; I and most others aren't too interested in hearing conversational statements of doubt repeated as ones voice of authority and end all knowledge. Especially when it causes a person to have to backtrack 30 minutes to complete a step-wise task.

Milder mannered friend of mine recently left a good job because of a person like the OPs problem. Give that; interruptions like what is bothering the OP could almost qualify as a Bullying variant.
posted by buzzman at 8:49 AM on August 20, 2013

He mansplains things that I know a lot about, things I know a little about, things that he knows very little about, you name it.

Hey, based on your description, there's nothing particularly gendered about what's doing. He may be explaining things to you because he thinks you're a woman and therefore don't know much or he may be doing it because you as an individual don't know much. He sounds like someone who just likes to hear himself talk or think out loud. There's nothing gendered about that.

But it doesn't matter much why he's doing it, he just keeps doing it. As others have noted, you need to create boundaries with him. Sitting there and nodding is giving every indication that you're ok with what he's doing and thus he should keep doing it. Stop doing that.

When you've had enough, politely interrupt him but first holding up your hand in a stop motion and saying something along the lines of "Hey, I need to get back to work and need to concentrate, alright?" Don't say what he was talking about was fascinating or interesting, don't say "we'll talk later' (unless you want to). Just indicate you need to do something else and he needs to stop and that's that.

Now as a co-worker, you may nee to keep some sort of professional ties with him, so you you'll need to let him ramble on every now and then. Or seek him and listen to him for a bit.

Finally, as someone who can do snappy comebacks at the drop of dime and has done so in professional situations, I'd caution you to be careful with this route. This sort of thing either comes to you naturally or doesn't and you need to wield it carefully so that you don't hurt the feelings of your co-workers(s) unless you need them to knock of something RIGHT NOW, while conveying they're way out of bounds.

The thing about a snappy comeback is that if often doesn't end there. They might have their own snappy comeback and then you run the risk of getting into an argument. Or they might harbor resentment because you made them feel foolish and small when, to their mind, they were only being friendly. So two weeks later there's a conversation about you or your project at work, they may choose that moment to make a justified (or not) crack about you.

This doesn't mean you have to deal with this goal or his behavior. But I do think you need to find your own tools for doing so as asking the internet for snappy comebacks indicates you have none of your own and might be starting a battle you don't know how to fight.

At the least, just establish some boundaries with him and stop indirectly sending signals that are the opposite of what you intend.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:35 AM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The unfortunate thing is that group of men who are socialized this way have never and will never change, at least not quickly, because of a few re-directions. However, you are peer and one with more experience and there is nothing unprofessional about politely but firmly redirecting the conversation when it goes off course. The company is paying you for your time, and a junior employee is frequently wasting it. Clarifying and refocusing a meeting or conversation is expected of anyone in that situation.

The most effective way, I've found, is one of two options. One scenario, he is mansplaining just unrelated to a specific task at hand for his own excitement. Don't smile and nod because your time is valuable. Simply say, "I'm sorry, I'm busy with something right now, is this immediately related to (specific task you are working on together or specific project for the team if you don't work directly)?" It isn't, he's just bullshitting. If he says it is and continues again, stop him again and say, "I'm sorry, I already understand the concept behind x was there a specific issue with it since we last discussed it?" Just keep politely saying this different ways, he'll get bored. If this mansplaination is in relation to a question/issue/anything you are specifically discussing for work stop him and say, "I'm going to have to stop you there. If I wasn't clear, I understand the concept already, I'm asking specifically about issue x and it's progress/findings/deliverable/whatever. Do you have anything new since we last checked in?" In both cases, no smirking or smiling. Neutral business face of a busy business person.

In the case he is just finding his way in the world and can learn new habits, reinforcing that these things he's saying are obvious will help him realize what he's doing. It's not just, "I know," open ended, it's, "I know and you should understand that already."
posted by itsonreserve at 10:05 AM on August 20, 2013

There's no magic bullet for this. The smiling and nodding might have to go; any kind of acknowledgement is encouragement in this type of situation.

In my own little mansplained world, I've tried to retreat into my own work. Can you wear headphones? Can you just disengage from him?
posted by RainyJay at 12:59 PM on August 20, 2013

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